Youngstown council may be ready to reduce wards

By David Skolnick


After failing to approve a charter amendment proposal that would reduce the number of wards in the city from seven to five, city council appears ready to do so next week.

Council tentatively is scheduled to meet Tuesday to approve the citizen-initiative charter amendment. A majority of council’s seven members don’t support the proposal but will vote to approve it at a special meeting next week.

“We have no plans to divert the process even though I don’t believe having five wards is beneficial,” said Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, who opposes the proposal. “The city is moving forward. Why would we go from seven council people to five? We have more work to do already. It doesn’t make sense.”

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, who supports the amendment to reduce wards, said, “I have trouble with the argument that it’s more work when we ask the administration to do more with less. We have to make sacrifices and difficult choices in the operation of the city. Citizens went through the process. If this gets delayed, people are prepared to file a mandamus to get this on the ballot.”

Despite the urging of the law department last Wednesday to approve an ordinance to put the proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot — as long as the Mahoning County Board of Elections certifies it has enough valid signatures — council refused to do so.

Gillam and others contended there shouldn’t be a vote until the petitions for the amendment were at the city council clerk’s office for the mandated 10 days before going to the board of elections. However, Law Director Martin Hume said a vote should have been taken with the petitions then going to the board of elections after the mandatory 10 days, which ends this Thursday.

“It was proper for council to do it” last Wednesday, Hume said. “But as long as they do it before the [Sept. 5] deadline, it doesn’t matter.”

Council is compelled by law to approve charter amendments, Hume said.

The committee in support of the proposal collected about 1,700 signatures. It needs at least 1,126 valid signatures to get on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If council decides not to approve the issue before the Sept. 5 deadline, the city would be compelled to have a special election on this issue after Nov. 4, Hume said.

Council last week approved a citizen-backed anti-fracking charter amendment rejected by voters three straight times. It also approved two charter amendments that come from city officials that aren’t subject to gathering signatures to get on the ballot.

One proposal is to combine the economic-development and community-development offices.

The other would make the proposed code-enforcement and blight-remediation superintendent an unclassified position, meaning it no longer would have civil-service protection. The person would be selected by the mayor and would serve at his or her pleasure.

Gillam, who sponsored the legislation, said bypassing the civil-service process makes it easier to fire a person from that job if he or she isn’t doing it properly.

Mayor John A. McNally prefers it to be a civil-service position though he said, “I have no problem with the change.”

There is a written civil-service test for this job Saturday. The civil-service commission will rank the applicants — eight are taking the test so far with Thursday as the deadline to sign up for it — with McNally making the appointment from the top scorers. The job pays $51,000 a year in salary.

Abigail Brubaker is doing the work as code official and interim building and housing specialist, and has signed up to take the test.

Even if the charter amendment is approved, McNally said the person selected through the civil-service process would almost certainly remain on the job.

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